AUSA: If Congress can’t pass proper spending bills for 2016, it will hurt more than 400 Army programs and damage combat readiness, two senior officials said here today.
“I have a binder yea-thick of impacts,” Heidi Shyu, the Army’s senior acquisition official, told reporters today, holding her fingers several inches apart. “Over 400 programs are impacted if we have a year-long CR [Continuing Resolution], $6.1 billion.”
“The Hon. Shyu and I, the entire time we’ve been in our positions, we’ve been under budget uncertainty,” lamented Gen. Dennis Via, chief of Army Materiel Command, speaking alongside Shyu at the annual Association of the US Army conference. Currently, “we have a Continuing Resolution that goes to December,” Via noted, which is pretty typical of recent years. (Fiscal 2016 began October 1st). But there’s a real possibility that — rather than use the time between now and December to negotiate a final 2016 budget — Congress will simply extend the CR for all of fiscal ’16. The chaos resulting from Speaker John Boehner’s decision to resign, and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s declining to run for speaker, will make all this much more complex.
Instead of passing new authorizations and appropriations for the new fiscal year, a Continuing Resolution simply empowers the executive branch to continue spending the same amounts on the same things as it did the year before. So a CR creates a two-fold problem. You can’t start new programs (or cancel old ones, for that matter), and you’re stuck at last year’s funding levels. The latter is especially problematic when that prior-year budget was too low, which both President Obama and Congressional Republicans agree it was. (The veto threat is not over whether to increase defense spending, or even the amount — both sides say $612 billion — but over how to find the funding).
“My biggest fear is a lot of critical major programs really are going to buy a lot less quantity,” Shyu said. She particularly noted helicopters, which the president’s budget request had tried to add money to: “[AH-64] Apache, we’ll be able to buy half of what was planned,” she said. “New builds of [CH-47] Chinooks, we’ll be able to buy half as many.”
Those, at least, are well-established programs. New programs can’t start at all under a CR, unless granted a special exemption by Congress. “Certainly we can make a request. Whether Congress will oblige is unknown,” Shyu said. Assuming no exemptions, “75 of our new starts within S&T [science and technology], we won’t be able to start. Even small projects we’re planning to initiate, we won’t be able to.”
If a program’s already started but is still in its early days, it can’t move ahead from preliminary concept work to design, or from design to prototyping. That notably delays the introduction of new equipment, such as the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) to replace the vulnerable Vietnam-era M113 “battle taxi,” Shyu said. “We’re supposed to ramp up in design [work]. Well, we can’t,” she said, not restricted to last year’s budget.
Readiness also suffers, Via said. A Continuing Resolution would slow down work to refurbish combat vehicles, helicopters, and other equipment. “We stretch out those programs and being able to reset that equipment, which delays getting it to the units,” he said, which in turn means the units have less time to train with their gear.
“Readiness takes time to build. It’s not an on and off switch,” said Via.
These impacts build over years and decades, Via summed up.
“When you look [the] cumulative effect of sequestration over the years, Continuing Resolutions over a period of time, unpredictable funding, that impacts not only just the Army of today, that’s going to impact the Army of 2030,” said Via. “What I worry about most is the cumulative effect over years, that we won’t know we’ve reached the cliff until we get there, [and] the price will always be the lives of our soldiers.”